Wednesday 28 July 2021

Latitude 2021

Bombay Bicycle Club on the Obelisk Stage
I arrived at Henham Park freshly double jabbed, clutching my negative lateral flow test result, a pack of FFP2 masks, and with a fair amount of nervousness about being in large crowds again. I’d book my ticket months ago with the belief that Covid rates would be low - they were last summer without a vaccine so it seemed logical that there’d be less to worry about this time round. In reality, rates were soaring and it felt foolhardy to be throwing myself into the fray. I needn’t have worried however, the crowds were considerate, it never felt unsafe, and the requirement to re-test on the Saturday morning provided some reassurance.

Walking through the festival site on Thursday evening, already bustling with activity, I felt the sheer joy of once again being surrounded by live performance and people who had missed it every bit as much. Everybody seemed to be getting into the spirit of the event immediately, and performers repeatedly commented throughout the weekend how amazing and surreal it felt being back onstage once more.

The Vaccines performing on the BBC Sounds Stage

Latitude is so much more than its music, with a brilliant comedy line-up, talks, dance and yoga classes, craft workshops, and even a full moon ritual ceremony. There were sign language interpreters at many of the events which was a welcome sight. I was struck by the broad sweep of ages in the audience, from tiny babies to grandparents and everyone in between. It was a chilled, friendly festival with everyone enjoying themselves in their own way without bothering others.

Late night entertainment in the Trailer Park
Some highlights for me were learning various dances through the decades, Katherine Ryan on the Women’s Prize for Fiction podcast, a surprisingly emotional event, Sophie Duker on the comedy stage, the surprise appearance of The Vaccines, and Kaiser Chiefs on the Obelisk stage. There were also plenty of brilliant new (to me) musicians, poets, and comedians, and I came back with a long list of performers to look up and support. Every night also offered some cheesy disco tunes to dance the night away to after the headliners had left the stage.

All in all, a fun, varied weekend which allowed for an escape from the grim realities of the outside world. It wasn’t entirely free from challenges, however, with a number of artists having to pull out last minute because of positive test results or the need to isolate. It was nonetheless a great coming together of people passionate about the arts having a blast and losing themselves in the music under a mercifully clear sky. Festival Republic succeeded in putting on a brilliant event despite all the uncertainty leading up to it.

Wednesday 21 July 2021

Such A Fun Age, Kiley Reid

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The Chamberlains have recently moved to Philadelphia. Alix runs a successful blog which began with her writing letters to companies asking for free products and which has morphed into a pseudo-feminist career and a book deal. Her husband Peter is a news anchor and instigated the move away from New York City. Alix maintains the illusion that she  still lives there across her social media channels. With a lively three year old and a new baby to look after they hire Emira to take care of the children so Alix can make progress with her book, despite the fact her drive seems to have evaporated since the move. Emira is in her mid-twenties and works part-time in an office when not taking care of Briar. She enjoys babysitting, knows she’s good at it, but also feels the pressure of her friends’ lives outwardly progressing quicker than hers, and the need to find a more stable job with perks like health insurance.

One night, while Emira is at a friend’s party, Alix phones to ask her to take Briar for a few hours, there’s been an incident and they’d rather their daughter wasn’t there when the police arrive. The catalyst for the incident was a casually racist comment Peter had made on-air that day. Alix is already worried that Emira might have seen it, but what follows will send her spiralling into an obsession to show how different she is from other privileged white women in a way that is deeply uncomfortable and inappropriate.

While out with Briar in an upmarket supermarket Emira is accused of having kidnapped her, the altercation only being resolved when Peter arrives to clarify the situation. Another customer, Kelley, films the incident and encourages Emira to make it public, the complete opposite of what she wants. His concern at first might seem genuine albeit a bit pushy, but it soon becomes clear that his preoccupation with showing how woke he is is actually just as toxic. The event that night is the most overt incident of racism in the novel but the book is littered with micro aggressions, unconscious bias, and the privilege of people who believe they’re acting with the best of intentions. It is at times uncomfortable reading and there are many times where you wish the characters would take a step back and realise the consequences and realities of their actions. 

Emira is a strong, likeable character. She’s defensive of her privacy, avoiding social media. The mid-twenties pressure to feel like you’ve got everything figured out is relatable, as are the close friendships she has that are more like family. You want the other characters to stop trying to mould her into their idea of success. In the latter part of the book she contemplates her relationship with Briar and the aspects of it that she finds fulfilling and satisfying. She’s also torn between hoping that she grows into a self-sufficient adult and the dread of knowing she’d likely end up paying someone for the emotional labour and the cycle of privilege would continue. Emira cares a lot for Briar, and although she knows she’s being paid to love someone else’s child for them, she cares about that child enough to make it difficult to walk away. When Alix starts her campaign to get to know her she finds it uncomfortable and wonders at the privilege Alix doesn’t seem to realise she has. Emira sees that Alix can be a good mother so believes it to be a choice when she’s not.

Alix is a conflicting character. Early in the book she’s almost sympathetic - lacking confidence in herself and her blog, struggling to adjust to the family’s new life away from her support network and the lifestyle that makes her feel as if she is someone. As the novel progresses however, we see how blind she is to her own actions, how unhealthy her obsession with hiding her privilege is. When her connection to Kelley first crops up it claws back a bit of sympathy, but there’s two sides to every story and it’s not always clear whose version you should believe. Kelley is something of an enigma from the start. Overly confident and blinkered in his views, his cocky attitude twinned with Alix’s revelation make you suspicious, yet he can be convincing. 

This is an interesting read that subtly weaves a lot of different threads together, and the title could just as easily refer to Emira’s age as to the time period we’re living through. It shines a light on the pitfalls of social media, privilege, racism, and the role class plays. The characters feel natural and believable, even if you wish some of their actions were less so, this is a promising debut.

Sunday 11 July 2021

When Will You Get A Real Job?, Elin Petronella

Photograph reproduced with permission of
Elin Petronella
When Elin Petronella met Charles Henry in 2016 it was the start of a beautiful love story, but also of an inspirational creative journey. Elin was studying Politics, Philosophy, and Economics while Charles had been working as a photographer after completing a degree at the Beaux-Arts de Paris. Elin introduced him to the joy of embroidery and he encouraged her to try new styles and take her creativity seriously. Before long they were winding up their lives in Paris, gaining a significant following on Instagram, and travelling around Europe, creating as they went. When Will You Get A Real Job? Is a case study of their first year as creative entrepreneurs.

A central message of the book is that the most important thing is to keep creating. Creativity is a muscle that gets stronger the more you use it. Elin writes of how committing one hundred percent to your art, of not having a back-up job, forces you to focus and keep working hard. The idea of being busy being busy is a useful one to think about - are the tasks you are spending most of your time on really that valuable? Yes, social media presence is important, but when it takes more time than creating, something has gone awry. Similarly, it is easy to fall into endless preparation work - there comes a time when you just have to get on with the doing.

Elin writes with great honesty of the dilemmas they faced and the difficult decisions they sometimes had to make. They were very much learning as they went, and they were offered some seemingly big opportunities early on that they turned down in order to maintain artistic control and reinforce the value they place on their own work. On setting your prices and not working for free, her wise advice is  ‘…if you don’t value your time, then why would someone else…?’ Despite this, she writes of their struggles to start with, finding it uncomfortable to ask people for money, yet soon found that they had a group of fans who were more than willing to pay for their designs and courses. It’s easy to read with a little voice in your head telling you that your work isn’t as good, that you don’t have the skill they do, but Elin shows that self-doubt is a common plague on creatives.

She writes about the decision making process, and times when they had to reconsider actions when they realised it wouldn’t serve their aim. She offers practical advice such as the importance of people seeing your work more than once, that people need to see something seven times to really remember it, so for everyone constantly struggling under the pressure to put new content out there, this is a gentle reminder that it is not only okay, but beneficial, to repost your work. She points the reader to secondary sources they found useful in learning about business and marketing, and gives good advice on how to choose what to focus on by thinking about what your aims are.

I picked this book up expecting to find it interesting but was surprised to discover that it was incredibly hard to put down, it will leave you eager to find out what the next chapter has to offer. I closed the book feeling inspired to put my all into my own creative endeavours. Elin perfectly balances personal memoir and practical advice in a way that is bound to leave you fired up and ready for action. I would highly recommend this book for all creative entrepreneurs starting out.

The ebook can be downloaded from the Charles and Elin Academy.

Check out their work over on Instagram and @_charleshenry_

Their YouTube channel is full of process videos, handy tips, and inspiration.

Their podcast, albeit discontinued, has some interesting episodes and interviews with other creative entrepreneurs, as well as some sweet insights into their lives that will make you fall for them as a couple.